In Cold War era folklore it used to be said that the supply of stinger missiles to the Afghan Mujahideen, in the 1980s, was a masterstroke by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The ravages of a seemingly endless war have kept the United States mired in South Asia for over 16 years. In August, U.S. President Donald Trump proposed a new solution to the intractable conflict in Afghanistan. The new strategy would focus not on meeting a specific deadline but rather on achieving the conditions necessary to bring peace to the war-torn country. To that end, Trump urged India to play a greater role in Afghanistan's economic development. He also had a few choice words for Pakistan.
Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) comprised the largest and most influential generation in history, particularly in the US, where I migrated many decades ago. But since I returned to my native Afghanistan to work as an interpreter, I have wondered, “Was my version of the Baby Boomer generation in Afghanistan a force for good or evil?”
In a brief four minutes during a June 2017 PBS interview, retired Gen. David Petraeus, unconsciously revealed just how convoluted the thinking behind U.S. strategy in Afghanistan truly is.
The latest news about Afghanistan varies from the profoundly dismal to the fatuously absurd.
One depressing story is the UN Office of Drugs and Crime report of November 15 that opium production for manufacture of heroin jumped to 9,000 metric tons so far in 2017, up 87 percent from 4,800 metric tons last year. It noted that “insecurity and political instability” are key drivers of illicit poppy cultivation. In other words, the country is a lawless shambles.
Amid this succession of policy failures, only one program, in Sopko’s view, had a discernible impact on drug production: the launching of a massive occupation of the country’s key southern opium districts by the U.S. military and the Afghans they were training. Checkpoints were set up at almost every road crossing. “In Marjah,” he reports, “located in the opium poppy heartland of Helmand Province, the share of agricultural land dedicated to poppy was almost 60 percent prior to the major influx of U.S. and Afghan forces. After Operation Moshtarak, in which 15,000 U.S. Marines and the ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] occupied the district in February 2010, the amount of land dedicated to poppy fell to less than 5 percent.” By the end of that year, 20,000 leathernecks in 50 fortified bases, backed by 10,000 British troops, had temporarily wrested control of the province from the Taliban guerrillas and checked the opium traffic that had sustained them.
After nine months of confusion, chaos and cascading tweets, Donald Trump’s White House has finally made one thing crystal clear. The United States is staying in Afghanistan to fight and — so the administration insists — win.
Afghanistan in 2016 saw 11,489 of its civilians killed in armed conflict, according to international observers. This was the highest number since external recording started in 2009. This year is expected to be at least as bad. The fighting season from May-October was particularly intense, with substantial losses among Afghan security personnel.
October marked the sixteen-year anniversary of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. President Donald J. Trump’s announcement of a new South Asia strategy in August 2017 affirmed an open-ended U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan, raising questions about ending the United States’ longest war. Meanwhile, the Taliban has increased its territorial and population control in the past year; the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported [PDF] in October that the Taliban influences or controls more than 13 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts and contests another 30 percent.
Power cables from Naghlu dam to eastern Nangarhar and Laghman provinces have been cut 57 times in the past two years, causing a huge loss, officials say.